When you think of vegetarians or vegans, what comes to mind? While many people adopt vegan and vegetarian diets due to animal welfare concerns or environmental reasons, there may be another reason to adopt a plant-based diet: it can help you lose weight. A review of several studies found that individuals on a vegan or lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet (those who still eat dairy and eggs) lost more weight than individuals in a control group, who had no changes to their diet. In addition, vegetarian diets have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
If you love meat, don’t worry: You don’t have to completely give up animal products. But adopting some new habits — such as eating more plants and cutting back on meat — can have a big impact on your weight and your overall health. Follow these tips to reap the benefits of a plant-based diet.
- Focus on adding, not subtracting. The #1 rule of a plant-based diet is to eat mostly plants. Instead of thinking about having to reduce your meat intake, simply think about ways you can get more plants into your meals. This may mean starting each dinner with a salad or a vegetable soup. Not only does this ensure you’ll get more healthy veggies into your meal, it will help slow down the pace of your meal — which is a good strategy for eating less overall.
- Don’t think of it as a “vegetarian” diet. Following traditional “vegetarian” diet rules can lead some people to still make unhealthy choices. After all, a diet consisting of French fries and chocolate would be considered vegetarian, but is obviously unhealthy. Remember your key objective of adding more plants to your diet, and avoid processed vegetarian alternatives to your favorite meat products. (What’s really in those meat-free chicken nuggets anyway?)
- Try meatless Mondays. Taking meat off the menu one day a week is a great way to force yourself to get creative with plant foods. Plus, it’s great for the environment!
- Eat vegan until dinnertime. Eat a breakfast and lunch that are high in plant foods. Try a green smoothie for breakfast and a veggie-loaded salad for lunch, with nuts and seeds added for protein. Then for dinner, you can enjoy a small serving of lean meat — just make sure you get plenty of veggies with dinner too!
- Rethink your grocery shopping. Stick to the produce section as much as possible — but don’t go overboard. If you load up on foods you’re not comfortable with, they may just go to waste. Get plenty of staples that you’re comfortable preparing, and try one new food each week. You’ll slowly expand your diet without feeling overwhelmed.
- Don’t forget your calcium. In one study, it was discovered that 75% of vegans consumed less than the recommended daily amount of calcium. To keep bones strong, make sure your diet includes calcium-rich veggies such as bok choy, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, collards, and kale.
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Medically reviewed by Jay J. Garcia, MD on March 20, 2017